Opening in the Montpellier Quarter of Harrogate is something Ben Poole has ‘always dreamt of’. Juliet Dennis reports

Q. Have you worked in travel for long?
A. I have been in travel for 21 years. I was fortunate to embark on my career as a travel agency apprentice straight from high school at Lombard Travel in Stourport‑on-Severn. In 2000, I relocated with my family to North Yorkshire. I’ve spent the past 19 years working for some of the best independent agencies in Yorkshire.

I worked my way up from apprentice to senior roles, most recently as agency manager. Everything about travel fascinates me. Most of my vital years of high school were spent on a beach in Barbados instead of in the classroom – I remember my form teacher saying ‘the only industry you will ever succeed in is travel’. How right he was. I hope he is reading this now!

Q. When did you launch The Travel Journal?
A. I started on January 1 as a homeworker. Within three months, the UK lockdown started. In a way I feel lucky about the timing because I didn’t have a massive wave of administration to deal with because of the virus. I had some customers booked for the summer, but my numbers were manageable and all rebooked for this year or next.

“Most of my vital years of high school were spent on a beach in Barbados instead of in the classroom – I remember my form teacher saying ‘the only industry you will ever succeed in is travel’.”

Q. Why open a shop at this time?
A. Some people think I’m crazy going into retail at this time, but this is the opportunity I’ve been dreaming about. I’ve always dreamt of having my own shop for my own brand but I only ever wanted to do it if there was a space in the Montpellier Quarter of Harrogate. When the opportunity came up, I couldn’t not go for it. I opened on September 1. This part of Harrogate is a conservation area and it’s full of independent shops. Units rarely become available. The area has a real community spirit; everyone supports each other.

Q. What has business been like since you opened?
A. It’s surpassed my expectations. I’ve had surprise visits from faces old and new, and even some bookings from face-to-face consultations. It’s an interesting time to be on the high street, but being in a prominent position in a strong independent retail location is so important at the moment. People buy from people.

The move from home office to high street was crucial for my brand; it’s the talk of the town already! It’s fair to say people now respect the fact The Travel Journal is here to stay and means business. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to be forgotten, and advertising can have less impact without a shopfront. I felt my only option was to be seen and that fuelled my decision to put my faith back into the high street.

“The move from home office to high street was crucial for my brand; it’s the talk of the town already! It’s fair to say people now respect the fact The Travel Journal is here to stay and means business.”

Q. What bookings are you getting now?
A. Like many travel companies I had written summer 2020 off, but then a surge in last-minute high-end luxury European bookings came in – a very welcome surprise. It was weird going from months of nothing to the buzz of enquiries, bookings and then having people abroad. Imminent bookings have all been for Europe and mainly luxury Greece, but most recently I’ve also booked multi‑centres in Italy and Cyprus. But I’m not taking anything for granted, especially after this year. The government’s advice changes are extremely frustrating but my clients book with me knowing the risks.

Q. What does the future hold for high street travel agents?
A. Lockdown brought everyone together and created a sense of community. Travel agents are so important and we have a huge opportunity now – the value of an agent has been proven over this strange period of time. Launching any type of business in 2020 is going to take full commitment and determination, and only the best customer service will suffice.

If, like me, you have a dream, my advice is to go for it. There is never going to be a right time. If you don’t, you will never know and live with regret for not trying. I’m bursting with energy about it – positivity breeds positivity. It’s too easy to be negative in the current climate. It’s going to be a rollercoaster of a ride but I am here to succeed.


What did you do during lockdown, while business was quieter?

During the pandemic I was employed by the NHS to deliver prescriptions to shielding patients and care homes throughout the district.

What started as a few days a week spiralled into almost a full-time role due to the extreme demand on the system. It was personally important to me to give a little something back and, as I’m fit and considered low-risk, it kept me busy and engaged with the local community.

And it was funny delivering to clients and catching them completely out of context – their travel agent delivering their prescriptions! We’ve all had to adapt during this difficult time and taking enquiries and amendments while driving a white van, dressed head to toe in PPE, will be something I will never forget. It was an extremely rewarding experience and gave me an insight into a completely different industry.

“It was personally important to me to give a little something back and, as I’m fit and considered low-risk, it kept me busy and engaged with the local community.”

Hopefully, when I retire to that beach in Barbados, I can do some volunteering again – but maybe at the turtle rehabilitation centre instead!

banner-17Sep